Harry Potter and Professor X playing God. Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy and Jessica Brown Findlay star in Victor Frankenstein.
Director – Paul McGuigan
Screenplay – Max Landis
Based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Producer – John Davis
Rated PG-13 for macabre images, violence and a sequence of destruction
Despite working as a nameless, hunchbacked circus clown, Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) longs for something better outside the circus. That something better arrives in the form of eccentric medical student Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy), who after witnessing the hunchbacked freak make use of his surprising intelligence, rescues him from his pathetic life and takes him under his wing as a protege for the science experiments he’s working on.
Of course, if you’ve seen or read literally anything Frankenstein related, you will know that his true passion project is turning death into a treatable illness, a highly unorthodox experiment that has raised the ire of Scotland Yard inspector Roderick Turpin (Andrew Scott).
Victor Frankenstein shakes up the iconic monster’s formula a bit by this time presenting the story through Igor’s perspective. Oddly enough, Igor is nowhere to be found in the original Mary Shelley literary classic this film credits its story to, nor is he in James Whale’s 1931 cinematic classic. Whale’s hunchbacked character was named Fritz. No, this film must’ve taken its character inspiration from Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein (which featured Marty Feldman as Igor or “Eye”-gor), or maybe perhaps from Ygor who appeared in Son of Frankenstein and The Ghost of Frankenstein, was neither a hunchback nor a lab assistant, but a crippled blacksmith, and was played by Bela Lugosi, the actor best known for playing Dracula.
Got all that? Okay, moving on.
I’m not one to whip out the “They don’t make ’em like they used to!” card. It’s an overused gripe, and I’m also not an 80-year-old man constantly complaining about how “back in my day, things were better”. But with Victor Frankenstein now making it the second crappy Frankenstein re-imagining in just two years (following I, Frankenstein) and adding to that the equally crappy Dracula re-imagining Dracula Untold, also from last year, I think we can at least start entertaining the possibility that maybe they don’t make ’em – in this case the Universal Monsters – like they used to. All we need is a trifecta-completing, lousy version of The Wolfman to really make it certain.
Oh, yeah. Never mind. Thank you, Benicio Del Toro.
All the fascinating, poignant elements of Shelley’s novel – the secret of life, pursuit of knowledge and humanity’s limitations – have been reduced down to a juvenile, terribly uneven monster flick. Yes, there are various ramblings from characters about the consequences that come from playing God and how Victor’s unorthodox views on life and death are more than taboo, but it’s all talk that leads to no real repercussions (Victor’s personal motivation revealed toward the end feels like a tacked on attempt at giving him humanity), and the eventual creation that comes out of it all is just your bland imbecilic movie monster that lacks even the slightest hint of tragic figure found in both Shelley and Whale’s depictions.
Poor Max Landis. He earns his breakthrough writing Chronicle three years ago, but between this and the messy, tone-deaf catastrophe that was American Ultra, 2015 has not been kind to him.
What strengths this film does have can be found in the form of James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe. McAvoy, whose talent is deserving of projects that extend beyond just X-Men films, provides Victor with a campy, energetic charisma that recalls to mind prior Dr. Frankenstein’s played by Gene Wilder and Colin Clive. Radcliffe turns in equally fine work as Igor, despite that his character’s deformity correction strips him of any intrigue, not to mention wastes his terrific physical work after the opening 10-15 minutes, and turns him into essentially the straight man. Unfortunately, the lovely Jessica Brown Findlay doesn’t fare as well as she’s sorely underused in a throwaway romantic subplot shared with McAvoy, tying Charles Dance (as Victor’s disapproving papa) in the competition for who can be wasted by their frivolous subplot the most.
Most puzzling about all this is a recent quote from McGuigan where he described Mary Shelley’s novel as being “dull as dishwater”. One, as drab and tedious as this film is, that’s a case of pot calling the kettle black if ever there was one. Two, what the hell drew him toward doing a retelling of a story he finds so uninteresting?
Despite it having the benefit of Daniel Radcliffe and a charismatic James McAvoy, whose chemistry provides the only spark of electricity to be seen in this film, Victor Frankenstein is mostly a dreary retelling of the Mary Shelley classic that, for being a re-imagining of a story based on the hellbent quest to recreate life, sadly features no imagination nor any sign of life. Like I, Frankenstein before it, this creature is better off dead.
I give Victor Frankenstein a D+ (★½).
REVIEWS COMING LATER NEXT WEEK…
11/30/15 What the Hell Were They Thinking?!
12/1/15 Benjamin’s Stash